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APIs: What They Are & Why They Matter for Your Data

Stewart Harper
April 27, 20166 min
APIs are revolutionizing the way we share and access data. By allowing web services to communicate with each other and existing business systems, APIs drill through data silos and open...
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APIs-Why they Matter for your DataAPIs are revolutionizing the way we share and access data.

By allowing web services to communicate with each other and existing business systems, APIs drill through data silos and open up huge possibilities for data integration.

In this series, we’ll walk through what APIs are, why they should be at the center of your data integration strategy, and how you can use them to share and access data. More specifically we’ll take a look at:

  1. What is an API is and why it is so important to the modern enterprise.
  2. How to move data between web services, and why this is going to be the new norm
  3. An example of how we used APIs to migrate our knowledge content—over 1000 articles and 10,000 discussions—from Salesforce Knowledge to AnswerHub and Auth0.
  4. How (and why) to build your own API without hosting any of your own infrastructure, using the AWS API Gateway and FME Cloud.

What is an API?

To be a successful business, you need to provide a way for clients to interact with your product and services. For example, a restaurant might offer their customers the convenience of ordering food by phone or website for delivery, as well as dining-in.

In software and cloud technology, an API (application programming interface) is another way companies can serve their tools and services. And APIs are becoming a primary point of interaction — for good reason. APIs make it easy for software to communicate and share data. They allow partners and customers to access core business systems, whenever they want, in a stable and secure way.

For example, Salesforce provides an API that allows you to move customer data into and out of the CRM and sync with other services that use customer data, like Zendesk or Zopim Live Chat.

If a cloud company does not have an API, it will become impossible for clients to integrate the service with their business systems. In fact, the market is now so competitive, it is not whether cloud companies have an API, but their success may depend on how usable and intuitive it is.

Why are APIs becoming so popular?

APIs used to be niche technology, created by tech companies such as Salesforce, AWS and Google—the pioneers of APIs. This is no longer the case. As a result of software permeating nearly every industry and product, APIs are now mainstream. ProgrammableWeb reports there are nearly 14,000 public APIs. There are several reasons for this:

  • The rise of cloud computing pushed infrastructure and data to the cloud. This dramatically increased the requirement for APIs, both for the initial migration and integration with other systems.
  • Barriers have dropped dramatically for building and consuming APIs . You can now create a managed, secure, documented API without hosting any infrastructure and writing minimal code.
  • The rise of mobile phones and devices embedded with sensors compliments this services based architecture perfectly. Developers can focus on the user experience and integration with device features, while the more complex business logic can be offloaded to web services.
  • The jostle to remain competitive in the modern enterprise revolves around the need to be agile. APIs give you flexibility, allowing you to quickly leverage and use the services that make sense there and then, dramatically lowering risk and allowing greater innovation.
  • Web technology companies that adopted an API first strategy caused disruption of entire sectors (think Salesforce, Ebay, Amazon and Twitter). Startups copying this strategy have successfully captured market share in many sectors, leaving larger incumbents scrambling to catch up.

Why are ‘disposable APIs’ becoming so popular?

APIs can also be hugely beneficial on a smaller scale; producing internal APIs can transform and streamline internal business processes. With tools now available to create a fully functioning scalable API in less than a day, the next wave of API revolution is coming—internal disposable APIs.

These ‘disposable’ temporary APIs are created to solve a specific problem that might only persist for a short time—say for the duration of a migration project.

What comprises an API?

Wikipedia states that an API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building applications. But from a business perspective, an API can be treated as a product with three core functional components:

  • API management and security
  • The interface itself (resources, methods etc).
  • The business logic that is tied to each resource.

There are other important elements too—such as monitoring, analytics and threat protection—but these are not required to deliver an API, especially on a small scale.

Evolution of the API, from a fully managed coded web stack to a server-less, code-less solution
Evolution of the API, from a fully managed coded web stack to a server-less, code-less solution

 

The API has evolved over the years, and companies now have a lot of choice on how they build and deploy APIs. The decision depends on the requirements of the project.

  • Self-managed API – This is the most flexible option, but also requires a strong development capacity and the ability to deploy, monitor and maintain a web stack.
  • Managed API – This option takes away a large amount of the pain around running a production API. You still need to create your API using your technology of choice; but the management, security, analysis and usability of the API is handled by the service.
  • Serverless and Codeless API – This takes away the pain of managing and running your own infrastructure. All you have to worry about is the business logic. Authorization and authentication can be handled by a service. You design and manage the API using the AWS API gateway. Then you can either use FME Cloud and/or AWS Lambda to deliver the business logic and interact with the data.

We’ll cover how to create a codeless and serverless API in the final post in this blog series.

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To learn more about moving data in the cloud via APIs, continue reading the next blog post in this series. To see how to use APIs to connect to open data, applications, and business systems, check out our API webinar.

If you have comments about this post or APIs, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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